As parents, we want the very best for our little ones. That’s why, from the time our children are even a few months old, we start encouraging their development in various ways. We play games to help encourage their speech, their mobility, and their future IQ. And yet, more often than not, we tend to overlook one important area of our child’s development: the imagination.

According to recent research in the field of developmental psychology, there appears to be a strong link between a child’s imagination and future cognitive development. According to these studies, children who exercise their imagination through role play and other activities - on a regular basis - tend to display greater empathy and social awareness as they get older. Interesting, right?

With this in mind, we’ve decided to list 5 simple activities to help encourage your child’s imagination. These activities are suitable for children of different ages, ranging from toddler to older. Take a look.

1) Day Trip

What you Need: pillows and cushions, paper or plastic plate.

How to Play:

You don’t need to actually leave the house to go on a little adventure. With a few pillows - and a paper plate to act as a steering wheel - you and your toddler can go on a trip anywhere you like.

With the pillows and cushions, construct a little car-shaped square on the floor and give your toddler the paper plate. Tell your toddler the paper plate is a steering wheel and that the cushions are a car. Ask your toddler where they’d like to go for a visit.

You and your toddler can go to the zoo, or the beach, or even a desert island. There’s literally no end to the possibilities.

While your toddler drives, encourage him or her to describe the different sights and sounds throughout the journey. Have your toddler describe the trees, people, and buildings you pass. Have her describe everything you see when you get to the location.

Trust us. You’ll be surprised at how much fun you and your toddler can have with this simple game, while also encouraging your toddler’s imagination and language skills.

2) A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

What you Need: access to an art gallery or museum.

How to play:

This game is great for older children who already have a fairly varied vocabulary. Pay a visit to a local art gallery or museum and encourage your little one to choose his or her favourite picture. Spend some time in front of the picture with your little one, looking at it and taking it in.

Now, encourage your little one to tell a story based on what is being depicted in the picture. Use general questions to help encourage her to tell the story and try and get her to be as descriptive and detailed as possible. Once this is done, you can move on to another picture or have her invent another story about this one.

3) Budding Chef

What You Need: Pots, saucepans, wooden spoon, and other cooking utensils.

How to Play:

This activity works great with toddlers of all ages. Gather your items and find a comfortable spot on the floor with your toddler. Now - it’s time to start cooking.

Give your toddler one of the wooden spoons, and start adding imaginary ingredients into one of the empty pots. Have your toddler stir the ingredients. Encourage your toddler to give you suggestions of what ingredients to add next and ask whether you need more or less of the different ingredients.

Occasionally, ‘taste’ the recipe and let your toddler know it’s too hot, or too cold, too spicy or too salty. Ask your toddler to taste it too and let you know what she thinks. Keep adding ingredients and stirring until the recipe is just right.

4) Hidden Histories

What You Need: Some assorted objects from around the house.

How to Play:

Get your little one to go for a search around the house and bring back three unfamiliar objects. Obviously, you might want to stipulate that these objects aren’t fragile or expensive - but just some simple items that can be used for the game.

Once your little one has chosen the objects, have her present the objects to you. Now, have your toddler make up a story about the origins of the object. Have her tell you where it came from, who owned it first, why it’s important to her, and anything else. Have her do this for all three objects. Once this is done, then ask her to try and come up with another story to tie all three objects and stories together.

5) Fun with Photos

What You Need: Some old photographs that you’re willing to let your little one cut up. Child-safe scissors, paper, and pritt stick.

How to Play:

Find some old photographs that you’re not particularly attached to and get some paper and a child-safe scissors. You’ll also need some pritt stick and some markers and crayons.

Now, present your child with the photos and accessories and tell her to create a new picture with the old ones. Cut out faces, body parts and whatever else from the photos. Try to give the new picture a specific theme or location - such as outer space or a the jungle  - and encourage them to try create a scene along those lines. Sit back and watch what wonderful scenarios your little one comes up with.